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Rachel Carson and Her Sisters

Rachel Carson and Her Sisters: Extraordinary Women Who Have Shaped America's Environment

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Rachel Carson and Her Sisters
    Book Description:

    InRachel Carson and Her Sisters, Robert K. Musil redefines the achievements and legacy of environmental pioneer and scientist Rachel Carson, linking her work to a wide network of American women activists and writers and introducing her to a new, contemporary audience. Rachel Carson was the first American to combine two longstanding, but separate strands of American environmentalism-the love of nature and a concern for human health. Widely known for her 1962 best-seller,Silent Spring, Carson is today often perceived as a solitary "great woman," whose work single-handedly launched a modern environmental movement. But as Musil demonstrates, Carson's life's work drew upon and was supported by already existing movements, many led by women, in conservation and public health.On the fiftieth anniversary of her death, this book helps underscore Carson's enduring environmental legacy and brings to life the achievements of women writers and advocates, such as Ellen Swallow Richards, Dr. Alice Hamilton, Terry Tempest Williams, Sandra Steingraber, Devra Davis, and Theo Colborn, all of whom overcame obstacles to build and lead the modern American environmental movement.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6243-8
    Subjects: History, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
    (pp. 1-11)

    I hope you enjoy readingRachel Carson and Her Sistersas much as I did writing it. Like many Americans, I had heard of Rachel Carson and knew in my youth, vaguely, that her bookSilent Spring(1962) had something to do with saving birds and reducing the use of pesticides. Then, at the time of her one-hundredth birthday, in 2007, I became intrigued that talk show hosts like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh were launching fiery, fresh attacks on her more than forty years after she had died of breast cancer on April 14, 1964. I wanted to know...

  6. 1 HAVE YOU SEEN THE ROBINS? Rachel Carson’s Mother and the Tradition of Women Naturalists
    (pp. 12-52)

    Among rachel carson’s earliest childhood writings is a small, handmade book, its pages pasted together and laboriously illustrated in crayon and colored pencil. It is a present to her “Papa,” Robert W. Carson, done, according to her biographer, Linda Lear, with a little bit of obvious help from the strongest single influence in Rachel’s life, her mother, Maria McLean Carson. In addition to the title page drawing of an elephant, Rachel’s first “book” identifies her woodland friends—mouse, frog, bunny, and owl. This sense of friendship, especially with birds, is central to a slightly later childhood story in cursive script,...

  7. 2 DON’T HARM THE PEOPLE: Ellen Swallow Richards, Dr. Alice Hamilton, and Their Heirs Take On Polluting Industries
    (pp. 53-88)

    It is 1958. Olga Owens Huckins has turned her home in Duxbury, Massachusetts, into a bird sanctuary. She is following in the footsteps of Mabel Osgood Wright, nearly three-quarters of a century earlier, whose popular book,Birdcraft, and creation of a home bird sanctuary in Fairfield, Connecticut, had started a trend. But when Huckins finds robins, writhing and dead, in her beloved oasis, she is outraged. Ever since tales of a town celebrating the return of the robins in spring had swept the nation in 1850 with Susan Fenimore Cooper’s best-selling nature book,Rural Hours, the robin has been the...

  8. 3 CARSON AND HER SISTERS: Rachel Carson Did Not Act Alone
    (pp. 89-122)

    Within two weeks after it reached bookstores on September 27, 1962, Rachel Carson’sSilent Springreached the best-seller lists. It was the fourth blockbuster book in a row for the popular nature writer. But success was not guaranteed. Her colleague and friend Clarence Cottam, her Houghton Mifflin editor Paul Brooks, Carson herself, and others feared, with its grim message and serious science, that the “poison book” might not sell.¹ And all those involved with its publication knew it would be attacked harshly by the chemical industry and its paid scientific hacks and political allies. The assaults onSilent Springand...

    (pp. 123-161)

    June 10, 1963, is rapidly growing hotter and more humid at American University’s commencement in Washington, the sort of day that calls up the old jokes about swamps and hazardous duty pay for time served in some tropical capital. As the familiar, flat Boston tones begin, it is soon evident to faculty, students, and parents alike that they are witnessing history. Hand occasionally jabbing, as always, at the air, President John F. Kennedy calls for an end to the Cold War, an end to endless enmity with the Soviet Union. All of civilization, indeed the planet, is threatened by nuclear...

  10. 5 THE ENVIRONMENT AROUND US AND INSIDE US: Ellen Swallow Richards, Silent Spring, and Sandra Steingraber
    (pp. 162-193)

    Hair pulled back into a tight bun, beneath thick brows, Ellen Swallow squints into the lens of the long, brass telescope. She uses her young, steel-blue eyes to observe the stars opening up before her gaze. This is the instrument, with its insights handed down from Galileo, that brought on a revolution in religion and in reading the evening sky. Swallow observes a small star cluster that even Maria Mitchell has missed. “Professor Mitchell!! There is something here we have not seen! Look, can you see it?” The aging Mitchell, mind undimmed, cannot perceive this novel point of light, but...

    (pp. 194-224)

    Like Rachel Carson, Devra Davis grew up near polluted Pittsburgh, got a degree from Johns Hopkins, and labored for years within the federal government. Davis is passionate, principled, and widely read. Her PhD is not in some highly specialized scientific subject, but in culture and science studies. Epidemiology and environmental health expertise came later. And like Carson, her principles and polished prose have drawn the ire of polluting industries and their ideological allies. Terry Tempest Williams and Sandra Steingraber are sensitive souls who seek to touch the spirit with their scientific subjects. Both have testified to Congress, both have joined...

  12. 7 RACHEL CARSON AND THEO COLBORN: Endocrine Disruption and Ethics
    (pp. 225-251)

    I am hooked from the start by the picture of the double-crested cormorant with a grossly deformed, twisted bill. More than piled up data, more than scatter plots in which only scientists see patterns, the effects of toxic chemicals on such a superb flying, swimming, and diving specimen are inescapable. It helps that the pictures are being shown by Theodora Emily Colborn, always known, despite her doctorate, as Theo. She has breezed into the board room at Physicians for Social Responsibility in Washington, bringing with her a fresh gust from the West. Other pictures appear. Hermaphroditic beluga whales, the cute...

    (pp. 252-256)

    If Rachel Carson were alive today, she would be astonished at the size and power of the environmental movement she helped to reignite and transform. Women continue to be central to its growth and achievements, even if still underappreciated and underrepresented at the apex of major environmental organizations, academia, and government. When President Barack Obama was first elected, along with a Democratic Congress in 2008, an African American woman, Lisa Jackson, was picked to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Hillary Clinton, a strong environmentalist, became the nation’s second woman to sit in Thomas Jefferson’s seat as secretary of state. Another...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 257-278)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 279-309)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 310-310)